I not only had the pleasure of reading Mrs. Whitely-Gillen’s novel, Last Train to Omaha, but I also got the chance to ask her some burning questions that I had floating around. Hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I did!
- Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I absolutely love Martin and Frank and they will be making cameo appearances in my next novel Egan’s Will. As far as a theme goes, I’m addicted to people’s personal journeys – like James’s for example.
- Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
At the advice of many, I self published and my goal after I establish a good readership is to have a publishing house pick me up. Having never written a novel before it took a lot of research and trying to find the right connections took a lot of weeding through names and businesses. I was extremely lucky to have found my editor Elizabeth Bond from the Canadian Editors’ Association who also worked for Simon and Schuster and has many connections in the publishing field. I found the entire process extremely challenging but worth it. I’ve learned a lot from the process.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
The one thing I can say is to write what you feel and what you know. Use your experience to ignite your imagination. My favourite authors are those who are not afraid to express themselves and their vulnerabilities through their characters. Anais Nin said “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” I believe this to be true.
How does your writing process look? Consistent with regular amounts of word counts daily/weekly… or more sporadic with a gush of words all at once and then a dry bed for a while?
I do my best writing in consistent chunks – hours upon hours, because I feel that’s when I feel I’m totally “in the groove” of it and my best work starts to flow. Having a very busy life doesn’t always accommodate this but when I do get to sit down to write, I’m normally gone for most of the day.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
There are some things on a personal level I would change yes, like getting more into the background of Stephen’s psyche. Also, I wouldn’t rush to have my book launched so quickly. We had some last minute editing issues that lapsed into our first round of publishing the book. Totally my fault of course…
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I too suffered from a few traumatic experiences that altered the course of my life much as James. Also, James’s anxiety was very real for me as I do suffer from mild anxiety and my best friend growing up was actually hospitalized for extreme agoraphobia and so his attacks were representative of my surroundings and myself growing up. I also believe that there is a part of me and everyone I know in every one of my characters. My life has been my inspiration for the creation of these characters.
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to walk away with? If so, what is it?
Love your life, right now in the moment and be true to yourself. Embrace your relationships and learn from them. Never stop trying to explore your path.
What books did you read when you were kids? Any books you found inspiring?
Dr. Seuss (lol!). I actually wasn’t an avid reader until my late teens. I did love to write my own stories as a child however. I come from a very artistic family. My dad is a painter and philosopher and my mother was into poets, including Dostoevsky and French Canadian singer Jacques Brel, so we were constantly exposed to art. For me, my biggest inspiration from my childhood comes from listening to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles.
What does your Main Character think about you? Would he want to hang out with you, the author, his creator?
I’m not sure about that. Excellent question. I don’t think I’m logical enough for James but I do think he would at least like me.
What project are you working on now?
I just got back from New York City where I attended a workshop with Syd Field on screenwriting, so my husband and I are teaming up to write the screenplay for Last Train to Omaha. So many of my readers have indicated that they would love to see this story on the big screen so we’re going to attempt to create something tangible and film worthy. I’ve also started my second novel, Egan’s Will. I’m really excited about this book as it will be more of an epic novel and this time, the protagonist is a girl.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I loved writing about Martin’s time in Vietnam. Having grown up in that era, it fascinates me. I remember everyone coming together to protest – creating a revolution to end war. I’m a huge World War II Vietnam War buff. I have so much love and respect for Veterans and what they have sacrificed for us all – the pain and suffering they must have endured is completely unfathomable to me. I also really enjoyed James’s journey thorough South East Asia with Ted – it brought lightness to the storyline I felt.
What is your interesting writing quirk?
Sometimes I talk or laugh out loud to myself when I’m writing dialogue. It makes me feel like I’m a part of the conversation somehow. Quirky – I know!
Which of your characters would you like to meet in person and why?
All of the Veterans – each and every one of them. I love them all. I feel connected to them and I think it’s because of my deep love and appreciation for what Veterans do and what they stand for. But mostly, I want to meet Martin. His soul is so rich and worldly.
Use 3 words to describe each of the following characters:
- James- intelligent, vulnerable, broken
- Rebecca- light, loving, forgiving
- Kitty- fierce, loyal, fun
- Ted- soothing, relaxed, brotherly
- Frank- sexy, charming, loving
- Martin- philosopher, witty, giving
- Stephen- narcissistic, funny, deep
You’ve been given the task to host a last minute dinner party. Which authors are on your ultimate dinner invitation list? Alive or Dead.
D.H. Lawrence, Jeannette Walls, and Charlaine Harris (to lighten up the mood because she is so much fun!)
Craziest thing in your fridge right now?
Some kind of weird dipping sauce – I don’t even want to know what the ingredients are!
Favorite childhood toy you wished you still had?
My stuffed donkey
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Toss up between Jamoca Almond Fudge and Pralines and Cream
Superpower you wish you had?
To fight evil
To Connect with Mrs. Whitely-Gillen, you can visit her at her website: http://www.anngillenbooks.com/